The 16th annual Winter Bird Festival gave bird enthusiasts from Galt and further afield the chance to share their excitement for the many species of birds that migrate to the area in the winter, in particular a diving bird called the grebe. The attractions included tours, presentations and exhibits of photography and drawings, and for the first time since 2020, the activities were held in-person.
A set of tours let visitors venture into Cosumnes River Preserve and learn how best to appreciate the wildlife.
During a photography tour on the morning of Feb. 4, participants adjusted their plans to difficult weather conditions. Fog shrouded the preserve and hid more distant birds from view. And, paradoxically, the January floods had drained some of the preserve’s ponds, by washing away structures that staff uses to maintain water levels; this meant that many birds had gone elsewhere for food and places to roost.
Nevertheless, the tour went on, with preserve volunteers pointing out different species and giving advice on how to get the best photos in various lighting conditions.
Lea Bavaro, a photographer from Sunnyvale, took the tour and acknowledged being “a little disappointed” by the fog.
“But you never know. I mean, when you’re a photographer, you just never know what the conditions are going to be like, so you have to be prepared for the conditions or be prepared to be disappointed,” Bavaro told the Herald. “But you know that the sun’s going to rise another day, and you can come back out and do birding a different day.”
Bavaro was able to identify the calls of birds through the mist.
“Red-winged blackbirds are a key one. They’re very unique. Sandhill cranes – completely unique sound. … You hear their little sound, and you’re just like, ‘I want to see it. I want to see it,’” Bavaro said.
She noted that her main reason for coming was to see her friend, the keynote speaker Krisztina Scheeff.
An experienced nature photographer, Scheeff gave a talk on grebes, a group of diving birds that can be found at the preserve.
Scheeff shared her insights about the birds, which she has documented for five years at Lake Hodges in San Diego. Grebes are known for their elaborate courtship ritual, which includes a stage called “rushing.” During a rush, two or more grebes run across the surface of the water.
The black-and-white birds have long, swanlike necks. The two main types are the western grebe and the Clark’s grebe; the former has black feathers around its eyes while the latter has white around the eyes.
“Clark’s (grebes) are a little more elegant. It’s kind of like the Audrey Hepburn of the grebes world,” Scheeff said in her talk at the Chabolla Community Center.
Scheeff said a grebe rush is a “synchronized dance” in which one bird sets the direction of travel, and the other birds have to keep up.
Scheeff spoke about her dedication to conservation, which includes advocating for protection of grebes on Lake Hodges, an artificial reservoir. In previous years, the reservoir management has lowered the water level, ruining hundreds of grebe nests and killing eggs. Working with the Audubon Society, she persuaded the city of San Diego to hire a biologist and heed alerts of nesting activity.
Besides grebes, Scheeff photographs a plethora of bird species around the world. She has visited the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Ireland and Scotland among other places. For more information, visit Scheeff’s website, ksnaturephotography.com.
Other talks from conservation groups also focused on local flying animals. Representatives from Hawks, Honkers & Hoots showed birds like a peregrine falcon and a red-tailed hawk. The founder of NorCal Bats showed three local species of bat, with the goal of showing attendees that they are nothing to be afraid of.
As evening approached, wind gusts picked up and sporadic rain fell over the preserve. Sandhill cranes, the area’s iconic migratory bird, congregated in flooded fields, including along Woodbridge Road west of Interstate 5. With wingspans that can reach 7 feet, the birds seemed to float on the wind before touching down in the shallow water.
According to the preserve, the sandhill cranes begin to leave for their summer range this month. For information about the preserve and what species are currently there, visit the preserve website, cosumnes.org.
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